Matilda Albuhaire -- A Sephardic Family Story

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Centropa's first film produced by the award-winning Bulgarian Photographer's Association.

Here is a story that begins in Istanbul in the 1850s and ends in contemporary Sofia.

After the death of his wife, Matilda Albuhaire's grandfather traveled with his young son to the Black Sea port of Bourgas, where he opened a small shop in a town filled with Greeks, Turks, Jews, Muslims and Bulgarian Christians. Matilda became a teacher in the Bourgas and Sofia Jewish schools, and when war came, waited with the other Bulgarian Jews for their deportation "to Poland," not knowing what awaited them there.

But Bulgaria's Jews were not deported -   the accompanying study guide provides articles and essays describing this remarkable incident.

After the war, most Bulgarian Jews emigrated to Israel; Matilda remained, and after the fall of Communism, once again became active in her Jewish community.

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Matilda Albuhaire's story begins in Istanbul, where her grandfather lived in the late Ottoman Empire. Many of Matilda's ancestors grew up in the late Ottoman Empire. To learn more about the Ottoman Empire, visit this website by the University of Michigan's Turkish Studies Department.

In 1882, Matilda Albuhaire's grandfather moved from Istanbul to Bulgaria. BBC provides a detailed timeline of key events in Bulgaria's history from 500BC to the present day.

The Jewish community of Bulgaria can trace its history back to the first century CE, and today the Jewish population of Bulgaria is approximately 2,000 people. The Jewish Virtual Library provides more information on the Jewish history in Bulgaria.

According to the Foundation for the Advancement of Sephardic Studies and Culture, Sophia, the capital of Bulgaira was the centre of Sephardic Jewish culture in the country. 

Matilda's grandfather came from Istanbul to Bulgaria. He prayed regularly in the synagogue, and had a seat in the front of the teva. Find out more on the meaning of teva in synagogues, or Sephardic Arks, in this article.

During communist times the synagogue of Bourgas was turned into an art gallery. You can learn more about the history of the Bougras synagogue from the Centre for Jewish-Bulgarian cooperation

Matilda was born in Plovdiv, one of Europe's oldest cities and the second-largest city in Bulgaria after Sofia, Plovdiv was also the hometown of Matilda's mother. 

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Matilda was born in 1916, during World War I. The Kingdom of Bulgaria participated in World War I on the side of the Central Powers. Read this article by Britannica to find out more on the history of Bulgaria's involvement in the war.

Matilda Albuhaire tells about the activities of the Socialist Zionist Youth Organization Hashomer Hatzair, the Zionist Youth Movement Betar, and Maccabi in her hometown Bourgas.

A collection of Centropa´s pictures from Bulgaria, showing youth group activities.

In the film, Matilda Albuhaire mentions that she staged a Purim play with her class. Purim is a Jewish holiday that commemorates a time when the Jewish people of the ancient Persian Empire were saved from a plot to annihilate them.

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Persecution of Jews in Bulgaria began in 1940, this included anti-Jewish legislation that excluded Jews from public service, limited the places that Jews could live, and restricted the occupations that Jews could have. You can read more on World War II and the Jews here.

Jews were forced to wear the Yellow Badge, in Bulgaria.

Matilda Albuhaire mentions that the deportation of her family had fortunately been cancelled, although the Aegean Jews were taken to Poland. During the war, German-allied Bulgaria did not deport Bulgarian Jews. Dimitar Peshev, the Vice President of the Sbranie - Bulgaria's Parliment, prevented the deportation of Bulgaria's Jews. Read a biography of Dimitar Peshev provided by the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation. 

However, Bulgaria did deport non-Bulgarian Jews from the territories it had annexed from Yugoslavia and Greece. 

See historical footage of the deportation of Jews from Macedonia, which was occupied by Bulgaria during World War Two.

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Matilda Albuhaire's family are Sephardim Jews, you can read more about her Jewish family life before the war. Her family spoke Ladino - a Spanish-Jewish dialect spoken by Sephardic Jews.

Matilda Albuhaire talks about her family's expereince in Bulgaira during the war.

Read an excerpt of Centropa's interview with Matilda Albuhaire where she talks about her life in Bulgaria after the war to the present.

Film Details

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Study Guide

Find more information in our comprehensive Study Guide.

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Film Script

for teachers and students who would like to read the script.

Study Guide

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